2014 True West Award: Gleason Bauer

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Debris never looked more savage, beautiful and meaningful than it did scattered across the Atlas Theatre stage in Boulder for square product theatre’s world premiere of SLAB, a visceral, multimedia meditation on Hurricane Katrina. This portrait of disaster was expressed in such expanse and minute detail, I lingered after the play for almost an hour to study it up close as one might examine a museum exhibit – or a crime scene. Post-apocalyptic New Orleans, after all, was both.

The first thing you notice are the large words sprayed in red paint on the floor: “Do you believe in life after death?” Then the large tree draped in trash – that’s the random garbage that got caught in its branches while submerged in water. Then the altar. The trashed mailbox. The thousands of Mardi Gras beads. The creepy army of homeless dolls scattered everywhere – each one representing another abandoned childhood. The musical jewelry boxes. The stairs leading nowhere. The tattered flags. The endless junkyard trinkets. The lone refrigerator representing the thousands of appliances that were wrecked in the flood and deserted throughout the city. The actors seated at dressing tables that framed the stage on three sides and gave the proceedings a Brechtian flavor.

SLAB is an original stage adaptation of a mystical regional novel Selah Saterstrom says she wrote as an essential means of survival and transition in the wake of the flood. Left with nothing, Saterstrom discovered the one thing she would always own is her story. Gleason Bauer, the director of the play, adapted the book for the stage with Emily K. Harrison, who doubled onstage in the role of the narrator. Tiger is an ex-stripper who takes us on a journey while trapped on the slab that’s all that remains of her home.

It was also Bauer who designed this painstakingly expressed world for the stage; a tapestry of curated miscellany carefully gathered from junkyards and thrift stores throughout Boulder. And it could not have come so meaningfully to life without the accompanying video designed by Christina Battle and projected onto unusual spaces such as the refrigerator and a shower curtain. It was also complemented by animation by Bobby Dartt; an original soundscape composed by Janet Feder and Paul Fowler; and lighting designed by Jess Buttery. This communal labor of litter love involved many other artists, including technical director Rand Harmon, and actors Mark Collins, Lauren Dennis, Emily K. Harrison, Paige Lynn Larson, Hadley Mays and Cage Sebastian Pierre. There are now plans to remount SLAB in Los Angeles.

It took four years for Bauer, Harrison and their team to bring Saterstrom’s work to the stage. That includes writing the script and filming pre-production Super 8 footage in Colorado, Texas, New Orleans, and Mississippi. It was all rooted in imagery from the novel derived from the Tarot and the Hoodoo and Southern Root Work traditions.

The least they all deserve is a True West Award for Bauer, who I’m guessing on this project has become the first in theatre history to serve a single production as director, co-adaptor, co-producer … and scenic designer. 

​The resulting play finally made it before audiences in July, less than a year after the so-called 100-year flood, and it hit some Boulder-area residents close to home,  To them, this world wasn’t New Orleans but their own yards, and their own garbage. 

1: Norrell Moore
2. Kate Gleason
3. Amanda Berg Wilson and Jeremy Make
4. Ben Cowhick
5. Robert Michael Sanders
6. David Nehls
7. Adrian Egolf
8. Emma Messenger
9. Buntport’s Naughty Bits
10. Tim Howard
11. Gleason Bauer
12. Daniel Traylor
13. Aisha Jackson and Jim Hogan
14. Cast of ‘The Whipping Man’
15. Rick Yaconis
16. Michael R. Duran
17. Laura Norman
18. Jacquie Jo Billings
19. Megan Van De Hey
20. Jeremy Palmer
21. Henry Lowenstein   
22. Sam Gregory
23. Wendy Ishii
24. J. Michael Finley
25. Kristen Samu and Denver Actors Fund volunteers
26. Matthew D. Peters
27. Shannan Steele
28. Ludlow, 1914
29. Spring Awakening and Annapurna
30 Theatre Person of the Year Steve Wilson

The True West Awards, which began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001, are the longest-running continuously administered awards program in Colorado theater. This year, the awards have been re-conceived to simply recognize 30 award-worthy achievements in local theatre, without categories or nominations. A different honoree will be singled out each day for 30 days.

The True West Awards are administered by arts journalist John Moore, who was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since founded The Denver Actors Fund and taken a groundbreaking position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist.

*For evident ethical reasons, the DCPA Theatre Company is not considered for True West Awards, which are instead intended as the DCPA’s celebration of the local theatre community.

Moore’s daily coverage of the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

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